By BosNewsLife News Center
STRASBOURG/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A Christian employee of British Airways (BA) has won a landmark legal battle over her right to wear a cross at work.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Tuesday, January 14, that check-in clerk Nadia Eweida suffered discrimination at work because of her Christian beliefs, in violation of freedom of religion laws.
Three other Christian claimants, who launched similar action, lost their cases, trial observers said.
Eweida, 60, took her case against the British government to the ECHR after she was sent home for wearing a small silver cross around her neck in 2006.
The Strasbourg, France-based court said the airline’s policy “amounted to an interference with her right to manifest her religion.”
It argued that while BA had the right to “project a certain corporate image … Ms. Eweida’s cross was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance.”
Eweida told reporters that when she heard the verdict she was “jumping for joy and saying ‘Thank you, Jesus.'”
“It’s a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith,” she added.
BA said in a statement however that the case, which sparked a national debate over freedom of religion, targeted the British government, not them.
“Our own uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to wear symbols of faith…She and other employees have been working under these arrangements for the last six years,” the airline claimed. “Miss Eweida has worked continuously for British Airways for 13 years.”
However the ECHR ruled against Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was told to remove a crucifix necklace at work. Judges said Chaplin’s employer banned necklaces for “health and safety grounds” and asking her to remove the symbol was not excessive.
Additionally, the court struck down claims by Lillian Ladele, a local authority registrar who said her Christian faith prevented her from overseeing same-sex civil partnerships. A claim was also rejected by marriage counselor Gary McFarlane, who refused to offer sex therapy to gay couples.
Christian rights activists expressed concern about the ruling saying sexual orientation trumps religion when it comes to rights.
In published remarks the director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, Dave Landrum, said the court “has shown a hierarchy of rights now exists in U.K. law.”
“If we want to create a society that is diverse and can live with its deepest differences there needs to be a fuller protection for religious beliefs, convictions and actions,” he said.
The ECHR said employers can strike a balance between the claimants’ rights to manifest their religious beliefs and the rights of others not to suffer discrimination.
The court’s rulings are binding on the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog.
However those losing trials can still attempt to appeal to the court’s Grand Chamber, a higher panel of five judges.
It was not immediately clear whether the Christians would appeal the ruling.